Hercules review – cheerfully ridiculous

Hercules

Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson plays the classical hero in glistening semi-nudity, leading a squad of mercenaries to defend the king of Thrace

He is Hercules: hear him roar. Pec-oil supplies plummet as the great muscly hero of classical antiquity arrives on the big screen, played by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, in glistening semi-nudity. Brett Ratner's cheerfully ridiculous and entertaining film begins by saying that he is "the son of Zeus – the Zeus!" That's in case there's any confusion and someone blunders up to our hero mid-battle, and says how much they enjoyed his dad's masterpiece The Cat in the Hat.

Yet the film restricts his fabled 12 labours to the opening sequence, and does not dwell on the yucky business of cleansing the Augean stables. It is with tongue in cheek that it focuses on his post-labours career and suggests the stories of those origins may not be literally true, but vital for helping him to believe in himself, and fight the good fight.

What a lesson there is for all of us. Hercules is avowedly the demigod leader of a crew of tough-guy mercenaries, a magnificent seven or so samurai of A-Team Expendables, including the seer Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), the droll Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), super-sexy archer Atalanta (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), brutish Tydeus (Aksel Hennie) and his silver-tongued nephew, Iolaus (Reece Ritchie), a beardless youth who longs to prove himself in battle.

The king of Thrace (played, slightly inevitably, by John Hurt) hires the crew to defend his lands against sinister marauders, but there is something strange going on in their own camp, and it has something to do with the king's iffy general, played by Peter Mullan. There were no cigars in those days, but if there were, Hercules might well have felt the need to spark one up; instead, he must content himself with other alpha-male mannerisms, such as removing from around his neck the tooth from the Nemean lion he defeated, and presenting it to a wide-eyed little boy who hero-worships him.

There are some rousing battle scenes, preceded by stirring addresses on the subject of going to Elysium – all cheekily borrowed from Ridley Scott's Gladiator, the 2000 film that did so much to revive the swords'n'sandals genre.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Peter Bradshaw, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 23rd July 2014 12.45 Europe/London

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